Jul 192019
 
franchesca blanchard

“Baby” is not a song title that implies much backstory. For instance, here’s how Justin Bieber explained what inspired his hit of the same name: “I’m basically saying I really like this girl and would do anything to make her my girlfriend.”

Got it.

A lot of thought and a lot of living went into Vermont singer-songwriter Francesca Blanchard’s new song “Baby” though. The simple name masks some complicated feelings. She says she wrote it after returning from five months in Ecuador hiking and teaching guitar. A relationship that started shortly before she left had fizzled in the meantime, and her return precipitated a “quarter-life crisis.” Continue reading »

Jul 172019
 
erin cassels-brown dreamin

The opening notes of Erin Cassels-Brown’s new album signal his Dylan-goes-electric moment.

A former street busker, Cassels-Brown has spent the last few years building a reputation around his Burlington, Vermont home as a folk singer and guitar-strummer around town. But on Dreamin’ on Overdrive, he joins the long lineage of former folkies who plugged in and amped up. While it’s hard to imagine Pete Seeger swinging an axe to cut the cable, it shows Cassels-Brown deliberately shaking off his local acoustic-troubadour reputation, and opening himself up to a broader national audience. Continue reading »

Jul 122019
 
matthew mercury

In a career spanning 25 years, Ezra Oklan has played with everyone from Nicole Atkins to Ambulance LTD, toured opening for The Killers and the Black Keys, and graced TV studios from Conan O’Brien to Carson Daly. Throughout, he could always be found at the back of the stage, drumming (check out this killer live performance of Atkins’ “The Tower” for a taste).

Now, in his new band Matthew Mercury, the sideman becomes a frontman for the first time. And not just that, but this veteran of a million Americana, indie-rock, and jazz bands steps out front with a new genre: post-punk. Despite the other sounds on his resumé, he’s not a newcomer to the genre. Continue reading »

Jul 022019
 
the smittens cover

In addition to County Tracks, I oversee another site all about cover songs. Vermont band The Smittens made our year-end list in 2016 with a cover of a short-lived band I’d never heard of called Go Sailor.

On their new covers collection Stay Gold, The Smittens cover a number of artists like Go Sailor: pioneers and peers in their chosen genre, which sometimes is termed “twee-pop” (not everyone loves the “twee” moniker, but The Smittens include it right there on their website). They also twee-ify a few songs from very different genres, including The Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back,” Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” and, in an old studio recording getting its first ever release here, the Oasis classic “Live Forever.” Continue reading »

Jun 282019
 
best new songs june 2019
Abby Sherman – Dreamcatcher


Abby Sherman released one of 2018’s best folk songs with “Wanting to Run,” and she’s returned with a catchy new single. Mandolin features prominently, joining her vocals to front a tight roots band on a song about looking back and accepting one’s own history. Continue reading »

Jun 072019
 
mark daly ernest

When I wrote an introduction to Burlington’s music scene for Vice in fall of 2015 – it was peak Bernie and the country seemed very interested in what the deal was up there – the first band I spotlighted was Madaila. Though barely a year into their career, Madaila seemed poised to be Vermont’s next big breakout, the dance-pop Phish or Grace Potter (though I guess these days the dance-pop Grace Potter is Grace Potter). The band earned millions of Spotify streams and garnered national attention from places like Paste and Relix. It seemed only a matter of time before they got a song placed in the right ad or an opening slot on the right tour and went supernova. Continue reading »

Jun 052019
 
sabrina comellas

Romeo and Juliet has inspired many songs over the years, the Dire Straits hit first among them. The latest addition to the canon, simply titled “Romeo,” comes from Vermont singer-songwriter Sabrina Comellas on her debut EP. Despite Comellas’ serious background in Shakespeare (she graduated from Emerson in 2017 with a theater degree), her Romeo and Juliet song doesn’t actually center on either character. She narrates from the point of view of an invented third party looking to the doomed duo for answers. The unnamed protagonist, a hopeless romantic removed from the Elizabethan trappings, offers a relatable way into the narrative and avoids the song becoming a sonic CliffsNotes. Continue reading »

May 312019
 
best songs may 2019
Bishop LaVey – Romulus


Kane Sweeney’s last single addressed ancient mythology, and his follow-up stays in that old world, this time riffing on the Roman Empire. His thundering wail of a voice suits the subject, as does his “doom-folk” genre styling. If Game of Thrones were still going, he would have fit right in with the wildlings north of The Wall. Continue reading »

May 222019
 
 Lissa Schneckenburger

Lissa Schneckenburger’s early albums feature song titles like “Lady Walpole’s Reel” and “Fair Maid by the Sea Shore.” As you’d probably guess reading those old-timey titles, these were not her own compositions. This professional fiddler has been studying and performing the traditional music of America’s Northeast ever since she was six. She even got her degree on the subject in 2001 from the New England Conservatory of Music.

On her new album Thunder in My Arms, though, this expert player of centuries-old music tried something new: recording her own songs. And not compositions that sound like old reels and jigs either, but contemporary folk-rock songs. Songs that sound like the 21st century, not the 17th. Continue reading »

May 162019
 
cricket blue album

Looking at the track list for Vermont folk duo Cricket Blue’s debut album Serotinalia, one song leaps out: “Corn King.” It’s not the title as much as the run time: 11 minutes and 57 seconds. On a folk album, one imagines a song this long must be an epic ballad comprising dozens of verses, their “Desolation Row” perhaps. The reality is much stranger.

Though quiet and acoustic in its presentation, the song’s structure leans more progressive-rock than folk. Add drums and a fretless bass solo and “Corn King” could be a Rush song. Rather than a standard verse-chorus structure, the song breaks down into six distinct parts, with melodies and motifs that interweave, some borrowed from other songs on the same album. The combination of gorgeous, string-laden acoustic music with an odd structure echoes an artist the band claims as a key influence: experimental indie-harpist Joanna Newsom. Continue reading »